July 16, 1906 - April 28, 2001
James Still was born on a farm near LaFayette, Ala., and began writing as a child. In 1924, he enrolled at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee because it offered work scholarships for poor students. One of his jobs was as library janitor, giving him after-hours access to books and magazines, an opportunity of which he took full advantage. Still earned an MA in English from Vanderbilt University in 1930 and a BS in Library Science from University of Illinois in 1931. In the fall of 1932, after a year of unsuccessfully looking for work, he became the librarian at the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky’s Appalachian region working the first three years just for room and board, then for a modest salary.
Still continued writing and published stories and poems in national magazines. In 1937, he published his first book of poems, Hounds on the Mountain. In 1939, he quit his librarian job to live in the community, get to know its people, and work full-time on his writing. His novel, River of Earth, published in 1940, was based on the lives of the local residents. Following World War II, when he served in the Army Air Force in Africa, Still returned to his Kentucky cabin and his writing. In the 1940s, Still was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships. He again served as librarian at Hindman from 1952 to 1962, then taught English at Morehead State University from 1962 to 1971. At that point, he retired to write full-time, producing children’s books, collections of folklore, short stories, and poetry.
In all his works, James Still strove for a faithful and respectful representation of Appalachian life and folklore. In addition, his writings depict the universal struggle to survive and find stability in a difficult and constantly changing world.
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Last updated on May 21, 2009.